Our plants: NZ iceplant

When you’re wandering along a seashore this summer you might spot some of our native iceplant (Disphyma austral syn. Mesembryanthemum australe, horokaka) – although it’s easily overlooked if there are any of the louder, brighter non-native iceplants in the vicinity.

Disphyma australe growing at Aramoana in Otago Harbour. The flowers aren’t fully open because it was an overcast day. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The flowers of this creeping groundcover are pink to white and smaller than those of the South African Carpobrotus edulis (described as “unwanted” by Biosecurity NZ). Found around most of the country and the larger offshore islands, it grows on rocky shores, as well as in dune areas and can tolerate a wide range of soils. Apparently our native iceplant isn’t fussy and in some places has hybridised with Carpobrotus edulis.

Lawrie Metcalf in his 2009 book Know Your New Zealand Native Plants (New Holland) records that Maori would squeeze out the juice from horokaka’s succulent-type leaves and apply it to boils and abscesses to reduce inflammation and draw out pus.

The Reverend Richard Taylor wrote in A Leaf from the Natural History of New Zealand in 1847 that ‘This plant produces an insipid fruit which can be eaten, and also the leaves which make a very good pickle’. (Reference source here, and the book appears to be available for free download here.)

Disphyma species are also found in Australia and South Africa.

Text and photos copyright Sandra Simpson and may not be reused without permission.

 

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